Best & Worst Toyota 4Runner Years

We've analyzed each and every Toyota 4Runner year in order to give you the best possible overview of the best Toyota 4Runner years and which years to avoid.

The Toyota 4Runner is famous for its durability and dependability. In our complete manual about the 4Runner – from its highest to lowest quality years, we’re explaining everything for you.

Utilizing an array of reliable sources and in-depth research, we’ve created a data-driven guide to help you understand the 4Runner’s evolution.

Get ready to delve deep into the specifics, from the defining characteristics of the best years to the challenges of the worst ones.

So, without further ado, let’s immerse ourselves in the captivating chronicle of the Toyota 4Runner.

Over the years, Toyota 4Runner has evolved through five generations, with each offering unique characteristics.

In this guide, we aim to provide insights into the best and worst years for the Toyota 4Runner based on a variety of factors, so you can make an informed decision when purchasing one.

Table of ContentsShow

Toyota 4Runner Generations

The first-generation 4Runner, manufactured from 1984 to 1989, pioneered the compact SUV market. It boasted a simple design and off-road prowess, laying the groundwork for future models.

However, due to limited available data and its relative age, this generation is not considered in our ratings.

Here’s a quick overview of all the Toyota 4Runner generations:

2nd Generation (N120)1990-1995
3rd Generation (N180)1996-2002
4th Generation (N210)2003-2009
5th Generation (N280)2010-Present

The table above gives you some better insight into the 4Runner’s evolution. Significant changes between generations can be a crucial factor in your purchasing decision.

Toyota 4Runner Best, Neutral, and Worst Years

First of all, we have to note that our rankings consider various factors, including but not limited to:

  • Owner-reported reliability (surveys)
  • Annual maintenance costs
  • Safety ratings
  • Consumer Reports reliability scores
  • Consumer Reports owner satisfaction scores
  • NHTSA recalls, investigations, and complaints
  • Edmunds owner ratings
  • JD Power owner ratings
  • Kelley’s Blue Book (KBB) owner ratings
  • VehicleHistory owner ratings
  • owner ratings

Here’s a graph that shows the combined rating from all the sources mentioned above, allowing you to better understand how each year compares.

Toyota 4Runner Car Smite Score Combined Overall Score

Let’s now look at the best, neutral, and worst years for each generation:

GenerationBest YearsNeutral YearsWorst Years
2nd Generation (N120)19931990
3rd Generation (N180)20011997
4th Generation (N210)2006
5th Generation (N280)2012

In our analysis, we also distinguish between “Neutral Years.” These are the years where the 4Runner didn’t particularly stand out as the best or worst but remained a solid choice.

It is important to note that certain factors, such as NHTSA recalls, negatively impact the ratings. The more recalls a car has, the less reliable it’s considered, which lowers its overall score.

Now, let’s explore each model year in detail.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 2nd Generation (1990-1995)

Toyota 4Runner 2nd generation 1990 model

Introduced in 1990, the second-generation Toyota 4Runner carried the tradition of the SUV’s off-road prowess.

This generation saw significant improvements in comfort and equipment compared to its predecessor, a departure from the 4Runner’s basic and rugged roots.

The Best Years: 1993

The 1993 model stood out due to its highly rated mechanical reliability. This year saw a significant drop in the number of reported problems by owners, with issues such as defective exhaust systems and electrical glitches largely absent, resulting in increased satisfaction scores.

The Neutral Years: 1990, 1992, 1994

In 1990, the initial release of the 2nd generation faced common early adaptation problems, such as minor electrical faults and teething issues with the new 4WD system. However, it laid the foundation for the models to come.

In 1992, the 4Runner received cosmetic updates, including modular headlamps and one-piece front bumpers. While these modifications were welcomed, this model year didn’t particularly stand out in terms of mechanical reliability.

The 1994 model introduced side-impact beams, enhancing safety, but it had a rise in reported engine problems, contributing to a neutral standing.

The Worst Years: 1991, 1995

The 1991 model suffered from a myriad of problems, including premature brake wear and a faulty cooling system leading to overheating issues, thus garnering a lower reliability rating.

In 1995, despite safety enhancements, issues like transmission failure and excessive oil consumption plagued the model year, resulting in higher maintenance costs and a lower overall rating.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 3rd Generation (1996-2002)

Toyota 4Runner 3rd generation 1996 model

The 3rd Generation 4Runner, introduced in 1996, marked a significant turning point for the SUV. This generation was introduced with airbags for both the driver and passenger, a first for the 4Runner.

The design was modernized, and the vehicle was equipped with more advanced features, reinforcing its position in the market.

The Best Years: 2001

The 2001 model year shined with its potent V6 engine, which provided improved power while maintaining fuel efficiency.

With fewer reports of mechanical failures and high ratings in crash tests, the 2001 model garnered positive reviews and high satisfaction scores from owners.

The Neutral Years: 1997, 1998, 1999

The 1997-1999 models offered consistent off-road capabilities, solid performance, and maintained a moderate level of reliability. They did not have any significant upgrades but didn’t suffer from any significant pitfalls either, hence landing in the neutral category.

The Worst Years: 1996, 2000, 2002

Despite an impressive safety score due to the addition of airbags, the 1996 model suffered from multiple recalls related to the suspension and fuel system, thus receiving a lower reliability score.

The 2000 model year disappointed enthusiasts as it was the last year with the 5-speed manual transmission.

The 2002 model struggled with costly issues like head gasket failure and transmission slipping, leading to high repair costs and thus a lower rating.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 4th Generation (2003-2009)

Toyota 4Runner 4th generation 2003 model

Entering the 4th Generation, Toyota continued to enhance the 4Runner’s road manners without sacrificing its off-road capabilities.

It’s worth noting that 2009 marked the end of the Hilux Surf, leaving only the 4Runner available in the subsequent model series.

The Best Years: 2006, 2007, 2008

The 2006 to 2008 models marked the height of the 4th generation, particularly the 2006 model, which earned our stellar 4.9 Car Smite score.

These years are best known for their minimal reported problems, advanced safety features, and the introduction of high-tech options like GPS navigation.

The Neutral Years: 2003, 2004, 2009

While the 2003 and 2004 models were known for their durability and reliable performance, they were also known for their less than stimulating fuel economy and lack of advanced tech options, landing them in the neutral category.

The 2009 model, while it did not have notable upgrades, maintained a steady performance with few reported problems.

The Worst Years: 2005

The 2005 model was unfortunately riddled with engine issues, such as head gasket failure, and several transmission problems including transmission slipping and failure, significantly driving up repair costs, earning it the title of the worst year of this generation.

Best & Worst Years for Toyota 4Runner 5th Generation (2010-Present)

Toyota 4Runner 5th generation 2010 model

The fifth generation 4Runner, which started in 2010, continues to be produced today. This generation saw the introduction of the Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P) as standard across all trims in 2019.

The Best Years: 2012, 2013, 2015, 2019, 2020, 2021

These years have been stellar for the 4Runner, marked by significant technological advancements and improved reliability.

The 2020 model year is especially noteworthy as it saw the introduction of the Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P) suite of safety features as standard across all trims. This greatly enhanced the vehicle’s safety rating and drove up owner satisfaction scores.

The Neutral Years: 2014, 2017, 2018

While these years didn’t introduce any major improvements, they maintained a steady performance and reliability score.

Some minor issues like the occasional electrical glitch and paint quality complaints kept them from reaching the ‘best years’ category.

The Worst Years: 2010, 2011, 2016, 2020, 2023

These years experienced more significant issues. For instance, the 2010 and 2011 models were known to suffer from head gasket failures and faulty air conditioning systems.

The 2016 model had a higher-than-average number of recalls for issues with the airbags and seat belts, contributing to its lower rating. The 2020 and 2023 models.

The 2023 model, while still fresh, has garnered some complaints, placing it in this category.

Toyota 4Running Average Resale Value

Price is undeniably the most important factor that must be considered while making a purchasing decision.

So here’s a graph that shows the current Toyota 4Runner resale values for all years.

Toyota 4Runner Average List Price


Navigating from our detailed exploration of Toyota 4Runner’s highs and lows, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We strongly believe that our comprehensive guide will contribute to your purchasing decisions in a positive way.

Here is our question for you: As an avid 4Runner fan or a potential buyer, which year model resonates with you the most, and why?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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Jonathan Eckert

Jonathan is an ASE-certified mechanic with over 22 years of hands-on experience in the automotive industry. His expertise spans a wide range of vehicles, but he specializes in diagnosing and repairing Japanese cars. His previous workplace highly commended his meticulous attention to detail, and that's exaclty what he uses at Car Smite to craft the best guides for each purpose.